The Three Readings of a Bill in the California Legislature

daily file

By Chris Micheli

The California Constitution requires a bill to be “read” three times before it can be debated and voted upon by either house. A “reading” of a bill in the Assembly or Senate is defined as being the presentation of the bill before the house by reading the bill’s number, author and title. Each time the bill is read, those three provisions are read aloud on the Floor by the Reading Clerk in either the Senate or Assembly.

There is a misconception that the three constitutionally-required readings of bills are the same. In fact, each is for a different purpose. First reading occurs upon introduction of the bill. Second reading occurs after a bill has been reported to the floor from committee (with or without amendments). Third reading occurs when the measure is about to be taken up on the floor of either house for final passage. Note that the three readings requirement can be suspended by a 2/3 vote in either house pursuant to the state constitution.

First Reading – The first reading of the bill takes place when it is actually introduced in either house. The bill is placed “across the desk (of the Assembly or Senate)” which is the official act of introducing a bill in the Legislature. In the Assembly, the Chief Clerk or his or her representative at the Assembly Desk receives the measure. In the Senate, the Secretary of the Senate or his or her representative takes the bill. The bill is given a bill number upon introduction. Once a bill passes over to the other house for consideration, it is simply read for the first time. Introduced bills are noted in the Assembly Daily File or the Senate Daily File, but there is no “first reading” portion of either Daily File. No floor analysis is prepared of the introduced bill.

Second Reading – The second reading of the bill takes place after the bill has been reported out of committee, either the policy or fiscal committee, to the Floor of either the Assembly or Senate. This process occurs whether the bill has been amended or not. Also, a bill can be on Second Reading several times, such as when the bill has been reported out of the policy committee and then again after being reported out of the fiscal committee. There is a Second Reading portion in both the Assembly and Senate Daily Files. This portion lists by file number (assigned to each bill once it has been listed in the File) each bill that has been reported out of committee to the floor. The general rule is that a bill remains on the Second Reading File for one day before moving to the Third Reading File. No floor analysis is prepared for the Second Reading file bills.

Readers should be aware that the file numbers assigned to bills in the Daily File change each day as all the bills get processed and move onto or off of the Daily File. Generally, bills are taken up on the Assembly or Senate Floors in file item order, unless some special reason exists to do otherwise. And, when the presiding officer announces a bill for consideration, it is usually referred to by its file number.

Third Reading – The third reading of the bill takes place when the bill is about to be taken up for consideration (i.e., presentation, debate and vote) on either the Assembly Floor or the Senate Floor for final passage. There is a Third Reading portion in both the Assembly and Senate Daily Files. This portion lists by file number each bill that is eligible to be taken up for a final vote on either Floor. A Third Reading Analysis is prepared for bills eligible for consideration on either the Assembly or Senate Floors. This analysis of the bill generally provides an explanation of existing law, what this bill does to existing law, any amendments, a listing of supporters and opponents, etc.

Unfinished Business File – Both the Assembly Daily File and the Senate Daily File contain a portion titled “Unfinished Business,” which is the section that contains bills that have returned to their house of origin from the other house and await a concurrence vote due to amendments that were made to the bill by the other house. This section of the Daily File also contains bills that were vetoed by the Governor. They remain on the Daily File for a 60-day period after the gubernatorial veto. Thereafter, unless voted upon, they are removed from the Daily File and can no longer be considered.

Inactive File – The other section of the Daily File to be aware of is for bills that made it to the Floor of either the Assembly or the Senate, but for whatever reason the bill’s author does not want to proceed with the measure. Bills that have failed passage can be moved to the Inactive File upon request of the bill’s author. If an author has moved a bill to the Inactive File, he or she can remove it from the Inactive File at a later date with public notice.

Floor Managers – While the bill’s author presents his or her bill on the Floor of the bill’s house of origin (i.e., Assembly Bill presented by the Assembly Member or Senate Bill presented by the Senator), that is not the case in the other house. In other words, Assembly Members cannot present their bills for consideration and debate on the Senate Floor and, similarly, Senators cannot present their bills for consideration and debate on the Assembly Floor.

So, while a bill’s author is responsible for taking up his or her measure on their own Floor, a “floor manager” for that bill is required in the other house. A Member of the other house designated by the bill’s author when the bill is considered by the other house is deemed the bill’s floor manager. In years past, this Member was referred to as the “floor jockey,” but this term is no longer used. The Member’s name who is the Floor Manager in the other house appears in parentheses after the bill author’s name in the Second or Third Reading portion of the Daily File.

WORFs – According to the rules, bills that are not listed on the Daily File can only be taken up with either unanimous consent of the house’s members or by suspending the rules. A bill that is not listed on the Daily File, but which is taken up nonetheless, is referred to as a “WORF”. The process of taking up a WORF bill is to take the measure up “without reference to file” (WORF). In order to do so, a vote of a majority of the house’s membership (41 in the Assembly and 21 in the Senate) is required to take up a bill without reference to file.

Chris Micheli is a registered lobbyist with the Sacramento governmental relations firm of Aprea & Micheli, Inc. He also serves as an Adjunct Professor at McGeorge School of Law in their Capital Lawyering Program.


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